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Wednesday, Aug 15, 2007

Independent India at 60

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Independent India at 60


Hindustani music over the years


Popular Hindustani vocalist Girija Devi spans genres and generations with her versatile singing. She specialises in Purbi ang, the flavour of eastern India, as well as Khaya , the major classical form of North India. She gave her first v ocal recital on All India Radio in 1949.

Many changes have come about in Hindustani music over the years. Classical music has gained a great deal of popularity over the decades. At times it does seem to be ebbing, but by the grace of God it will grow again.

My contemporaries and I were lucky to have the privilege of singing before very knowledgable people. They shared their knowledge with us and we gained in experience by being with them.

Not a good profession

In the old days, music was not seen as a good profession for girls from respected families. But that feeling gradually changed. Women such as Hirabai Barodekar, Siddheswari Devi, Mogubai Kurdikar and others hailed from families of professional singers but made a name for themselves as great artistes. Thus they gained the respect of society, and other girls could follow in their path as professional musicians.

Today, women are not behind in any field. They are pilots, surgeons, IAS officers; they become anything they want to be. We have women as Chief Ministers and, now, even a woman President. Back in the old days women remained in ghunghat. It is a matter of great happiness that women are coming to the forefront in every field now.

Institutions such as All India Radio, where I gave my first concert in 1949, did a great deal to nurture and propagate classical music. Then there were the gramophone companies such as HMV, Columbia, and others.

Before these, the rajas and maharajas were great patrons of the arts. I personally did not ever perform before any maharaja, simply because when I started singing, in 1946-47, the era of the princely states was already at an end. By that time they had lost their kingdoms and could not continue their patronage of music as before. We were in a democracy; there was neither raja nor rank (neither king nor subject.)

Government support

Today, if you ask if the Government does enough for artistes, I would say it has to look after the whole nation, not just the artists. Nowadays you find that those with influence, or those who make it a point to personally meet the people at the top, manage to make gains.

Those who merely rely on written letters and applications don’t always get a hearing. I feel it is the responsibility of those who have managed to reach an exalted position to look back and lend a hand to those left behind.

Take a look at the way people are awarded the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan and so on. That will make it clear that only some make it as celebrities.

Own perspective

Every musician has his or her own perspective, however. There are many great musicians who are older than me, like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Kishan Maharaj, and others. They have all contributed in their own way to bringing glory to Hindustani music. One thing I must say. Classical music gives one so much inner peace, so much joy that we artists can never leave it for any other calling.

(As told to Anjana Rajan)

Independent India at 60
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